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sales-strategy

The founder of a commercial building product manufacturer built a company that was successful for many years. However, operating as a single rainmaker, he had reached the limit of the accounts he could service, plateauing growth. Faced with a market opportunity and desire to continue to grow the business, he needed to add salespeople to the team and onboard them to his successful sales process while providing them with needed tools.  

We conducted extensive interviews with the founder to identify the lead generation and sales closing process he had been using. Based on the sessions, we documented the founder’s process including audiences, referral sources, profile of businesses to sell directly, and productive trade shows. We looked for a technology solution that would support the process, fit within the budget, sustain a range of technical mastery for salespeople and maximize time spent in front of clients. Once selected, we configured the system to support the step-by-step lead generation and closing processes, and inputted all available data from the founder’s own historical database. With the data loaded, we built out dashboards and reports that were actionable. Regular training and coaching sessions were launched to get users up to speed on how to use the tool and show what it could do for them.

With a sales process rooted in years of success, the new salespeople were able to hit the ground running, leveraging a tool that supported their work. The founder was able to replicate himself and institutionalize his experience. Quickly the company was exceeding its growth goals by 75%.

sales-strategy

Our client, a professional services firm with 25+ offices nationwide, developed a strategic growth plan with its primary lever being lateral acquisition of firms and solo practitioners with existing books of business.  Successful execution needed an aligned definition of a qualified acquisition target, and the organizational capabilities and resources to support the Principals tasked with the work across all the markets.

We developed a customized relationship management program to identify and attract pre-qualified target firms. The first step was to build a profile of the ideal acquisition target with an understanding of how likely the firm would be open to the conversation as well as the assets/revenue it would bring. We did this by engaging industry professionals to research and outreach to targets narrowing the prospect list from 200k to 10k. From the qualified prospects we developed personalized background dossiers and talking points for the Principals in each market. Leveraging the dossiers the Principal would then begin the process of developing a relationship with the prospect over multiple of meetings. Each Principal was having four meetings a month and managing 50 relationships over time. Additionally, we rolled out an internal tracking system to log interactions, trigger follow-up and generate reporting across the organization.

The customized acquisition target list and standardized process allowed the Principals to effectively focus their time on recruiting rather than prospecting. The internal buy-in to the program was strong with testimonials from the Principals on their success building relationships and achieving targets. The program enabled firm to deliver its lateral acquisition goal, a critical lever in the growth plan.

sales-strategy

Our client, a business-to-business solutions provider, relied on organic lead generation to grow the business.  However, with plans to accelerate growth, this would not deliver the results.  Several approaches were tried without the desired outcomes. First a SEO campaign was initiated to jump start leads; it was costly and generated unqualified inquiries which required the team’s follow-up. The next effort was to outsource to a call center and again this was costly and did not generate qualified leads despite the client investing considerable time and resources over time to training the call center team.   

Through a series of discovery sessions, we developed an in-house outbound lead generation team supported by a lead generation module added to an existing a CRM system. The program encompassed job descriptions, interviewing guides, orientation and training materials to ensure the team understand the services they would be selling.  Additionally, a call process, scripts and FAQs were created to navigate the both call and relationship. The team was provided targeted list of pre-qualified leads, consisting of companies with problems we knew the client’s services could solve.

The in-house program allowed the client control and cost was in line with other methods with better results. The firm’s salespeople were able to redirect their time to closing leads rather than following up on unqualified leads. With the implementation of the in-house program the client was regularly getting 20 qualified leads a month and closing two new clients a month delivering the accelerated growth targets.

sales-strategy

The Founder & CEO of a rapidly growing creative design firm and her partner were the sole drivers of client acquisition for their company. This prevented them from being as present as they needed to be in the company’s operations. The firm hadn’t grown enough to justify hiring a full-time business development person—what they needed was a support system to help them organize, prioritize and capitalize on their important relationships.  

Through our REALationships™ program, we identified the individual relationships—past clients, referrers, connectors and others—that had contributed most to their success. We created systematic, authentic 1-to-1 messages for the Founder and her partner to use to build and maintain rapport with those key individuals. What’s more, we strategically identified individuals who were poised to help them expand into larger, more competitive markets and created unique roadmaps to help them connect with those people.

Within 12 months, our activity rekindled pre-existing and initiated new relationships that allowed our clients to close the three largest deals in their company’s history. Our efforts also enabled them to foster rapport with referrers and potential clients that hadn’t been contacted in years. And, because we performed the administrative aspects of initiating and developing those critical relationships, our clients were able to spend more or their own time on face-to-face activities. Additionally, we built and maintained a CRM system to track their outreach activities.

sales-strategy

The area president of a national business services outsourcing firm was overseeing a rapidly growing division. His personal success, and by extension, the success of his company, hinged upon maintaining strong relationships with referrers, prospective clients, existing clients and the contracted consultants that served them. With an increasing number of consultants and clients under his responsibility, it was becoming difficult to maintain quality relationships with all of these groups.

We analyzed each of these groups of people and, through our REALationships™ program, began to segment and set measurable goals for each relationship type. We facilitated discovery sessions that allowed us to document our client’s communication style and relationship history. Then, we developed a strategic plan to help him build and maintain rapport with each of the key individuals in his universe.

By the end of the first year, our client exceeded his revenue acquisition goal by 20%, and his client retention goal by 50%.

With all the noise in marketing these days, the need for more meaningful conversations has become more important than ever. The rise in digital platforms has transformed how we communicate. Anyone can broadcast their thoughts to anyone at any time—even worse, everyone feels a need to. Feeling the pressure to reach customers and weed through the chatter, people tend to share their message everywhere possible. Instead, I encourage you to focus on building a stronger network with meaningful conversations. To make meaningful, emotional connections, I choose to interact on a deeper level. And sometimes, that means interacting with fewer people at a time. My most successful (i.e. profitable) business relationships are those where the two of us have ever-deeper interactions. Every time we get together, we learn a little more about each other, find more things we have in common, and feel emotionally closer to each other. Here are some tips for deepening your relationships by having more meaningful conversations:

Uncover commonalities

  • Ask questions: about their business sure, but also about their kids, travel, hobbies, places they’ve worked.
  • Look for things you have in common and explore those topics.
  • Find ways for the two of you to bond.

Deepen the human connection

  • Tap into the way they are feeling and the emotions they are expressing, and mirror those.
  • Use feeling words (e.g., that sounds frustrating, you must be elated).
  • Get a little vulnerable. I will often share a mistake or challenge I’m facing as a way to be more authentic.
  • Share something that only your closest friends or family might know about you.

Be memorable

  • Create a special moment (e.g. make a joke, give them a compliment, refer to something unique). In doing so, that person is more likely to remember you and what you discussed.
  • Refer to a previous conversation. It’s much easier to pick up on the last conversation if a memorable topic was discussed.
  • Memorable conversations build on one another, so that with each interaction, you deepen the relationship.

Be likeable

  • Talk about unique experiences you’ve had—especially about those you have in common.
  • Don’t try too hard. People are drawn to others who are open and real and trustworthy. Just be your most authentic self.
  • When we like someone, we want to see them succeed, so it’s a lot more likely an “ask” will be answered with action if you’ve made the effort to get to like each other first.

Bottom line: meaningful conversations are key to building authentic relationships. It’s essentially the only way to stand out in a sea of endless dialogues. Endeavor to improve upon the silence and stop wasting time with useless chatter. We believe the world NEEDS to be having more meaningful (and civil) conversation. Honoring this philosophy in the way we work with clients, the way we market our business, and the way we work with our team members has led to higher profits and more fulfilling work. If you’d like to have a meaningful conversation about how to have meaningful conversations, get in touch with us!

If real, authentic relationships are important to the success of your business, it’s invaluable to know exactly who you can build relationships with.

In my book Clicksand, I share the idea of the Universe of Potential Relationships. You can only build relationships with people who meet three criteria:

  1. They are someone you want to have a relationship with.
  2. They are open to starting a new relationship.
  3. You are able to build rapport with them.

Each of those three criteria can be represented by a circle, and the universe of potential relationships exists where all three circles overlap (when people fit all three criteria).

In two recent articles, I explored items 1 and 2 from the list above. Now, let’s take a look at the final piece of the puzzle: people you can build rapport with.

A “common” problem

Building rapport with another person starts with understanding how relationships are formed. It’s a simple misperception that in order to build a relationship, you need to get the person to like you. The belief is that relationships are formed just by Person A and Person B liking each other. But that’s not how it actually works.

Relationships are actually formed (and deepened) when both Person A and Person B like the same things. Both like Thai food? Check. Similar sense of humor?  Done. Golf fanatics? Great! Those things that both people share are called commonalities and they are the secret to building and deepening relationships.

Here is a quick exercise: make a list of a few people that you have great relationships with. Then, make a list of all the things you have in common; things you both like, whether you’re both introverted or outgoing, similar experiences you’ve had in life (even if they weren’t things you did together), your opinions on politics and the world, what you do to relax, and so on. When we do this with clients at Civilis Marketing, they are often surprised at how long this list can become. They can quickly come up with twenty, thirty or even fifty commonalities they share with their best relationships!

Next, write down a couple of people you wish you had a better relationship with and make a list of things you have in common. Like our clients, you’ll probably find that the list is much shorter—maybe only two or three things total.

The question, then, is are you just out of luck when it comes to those people? The good news is that you’re not out of luck—you just need to get more creative in finding commonalities with those people.

Infinite possibilities

The number of things you can have in common with another person is almost endless, but we have been able to condense them down into five different types:

  1. Characteristics – What and who you are. Title/responsibilities, industry certifications, ages/genders, ethnicities, group memberships, physical traits, and family situations are examples of potential shared characteristics.
  2. Behaviors – What you do and how you do it. Being very organized or disorganized, following the rules or breaking them, being boisterous or quiet. People who have similar behaviors are more likely to form a relationship than those who don’t.
  3. Experiences – Where you’ve been and what you’ve done in the past (or what you are going through right now). Travel experiences, raising kids, working at a certain company or job, living in a particular place, or going through some sort of life event are examples of potential shared experiences.
  4. Interests – What you enjoy. The list of potential shared interests is long: hobbies, sports teams, movies, music, food, vacation destinations, particular authors, business gurus, sunny weather … the list goes on and on. Interests provide the widest variety of potential commonalities.
  5. Opinions – What you think and how you see the world. Political views, religious affiliation, commentary on current events, and business industry views fall into this category. Opinions are the most volatile of all commonality types. They can forge incredibly strong bonds between people, but they can also alienate people who don’t share your opinions. So, great care must be taken to ensure that your opinion is one that the would-be relationship agrees with before exploring it as a potential commonality.

Even with all five of these types, there are still times when we find our clients have trouble identifying enough commonalities with their important (or desired) relationships. That’s when it helps to take a different perspective on things that might not initially seem like they are commonalities.

Going deeper

Let’s say I like running and you like golf. On the surface, there is no commonality there.  But wait a minute, running and golf are both outdoor activities, so we both love being outside. And, I can guarantee you that if we are stuck in the office on the first warm day of spring, we’re both yearning to be outside enjoying the weather. So, while we don’t like the same sport, we do love the same weather.

When you go deeper on items that don’t appear to be commonalities (or just look at them from a different angle), you can almost always find aspects of them that are shared between two people.

When we work with Civilis Marketing clients, we are always able to generate much larger lists of commonalities than they expect for the people they want deeper relationships with. If you take some time with your own relationships, I’m sure you can do the same thing and push your relationship-building efforts into another gear!

In Clicksand, I explore the concept of the Universe of Potential Relationships. There are three overlapping circles: the people you want to meet, the people who are open to meeting someone new, and the people you can build rapport with. You can only build a relationship with the people who meet all three of those conditions—where all three circles overlap.

When we begin working with new clients at Civilis Marketing, we find that many of them have been making mistakes related to one (or more) of those three circles. In a previous article I spelled out ways to critically think through who you want to have a relationship with (it’s not always obvious!).

Now, let’s look at the flip side: people open to meeting someone new.

Out of control

The first—and most important—point to make about whether people are open to meeting someone new is that you have no control over it. You can attempt to open a dialogue, but it is the other person’s choice whether to accept your overture or not. And if they choose not to, you need to respect their decision—especially if you ever really do want to have a meaningful business relationship with them. Too many companies these days (especially those that believe what online marketers and tools tell them) keep hammering away when they really want to meet someone. We all get emails that start out with some variation of “You didn’t respond to my last email, so…”  Then, they go on to explain why it is so important that you let them into your life. They think that if they are persistent enough, people will eventually relent and respond, allowing them to move the relationship forward.

Online marketing companies like HubSpot call this irritating persistence “nurturing,” and build tools that encourage the behavior. But no matter what HubSpot calls it, in truth, it’s badgering. It even verges on stalking.

There is absolutely no way you can try to begin a relationship with someone by badgering (or stalking) them and have it turn into a healthy, long-term relationship. So, the bottom line is: If you want to really build solid, authentic long-term relationships, start by respecting the other person from the very beginning. If they don’t want a relationship, don’t push it.

But that doesn’t mean all is lost.

The more things change

One fantastic characteristic of people who don’t want to meet anyone new now, is that eventually they will want to meet someone new. It’s a sales axiom that “no” just means “not yet.”

If you sell a product or service that your ideal customer needs, it is only a matter of time before they are open to looking at a new solution. The secret is learning what the triggers are that will cause them to move to the “willing to meet someone new” circle.  There are many such triggers, including:

  • Performance problems: They reach a point where they need to make a change in order to improve their results.
  • Management change or turnover: New management comes in or old management leaves, resulting in an openness to new ideas.
  • Macroeconomic factors (recession, low/high unemployment, etc.): Changes in the economy (in the country or just in a particular industry) can cause businesses to become open to new relationships.
  • Non-economic external factors (natural disasters, news events, etc.): Businesses are often affected by legal, environmental, criminal, or other societal factors outside of their control.
  • Supplier failure: The supplier they have been happy with previously lets them down, causing them to need to find a new solution.
  • Competitor change: A new competitor appears, or an existing competitor makes a change that causes them to reexamine their own business model.

The roadmap

The bottom line, though, is that if your business is built on authentic, long-term relationships, pay extra attention to the needs and desires of the people you want to have relationships with. Being pushy and trying to move things along more quickly so you can meet your own goals or deadlines might feel good in the short run, but it will only ruin your chances of long-term success.

Spend time thinking about the people you want to start relationships with. What are their lives like? How far they are willing to go (or not go) now?  And prepare for the moment when their life will change, causing them to move into the “willing to meet someone new” circle.

One concept I explore in Clicksand is the Universe of Potential Relationships. It is a concept we use a lot with our clients at Civilis Marketing.

The idea is that for any new relationship to form between you and another person, three conditions must exist. First, the person must be the kind of individual you want to have a relationship with. Second, that person must be open to meeting someone new. And finally, you must have (or be able to build) enough rapport with that person in order for the relationship to start and subsequently flourish.

On the surface this process makes sense—no one ever disagrees with us when we describe it. But when you actually start putting it into real world practice, it is not nearly as easy as it sounds.

Let’s take the very first condition: people you want to meet.

Most business owners think this is simple and tend to spend very little time on it. They have a target description like, “we want to meet CEOs of companies with 10-50 employees” or “we want to meet managers at Fortune 100 companies who make purchasing decisions about [insert product or service here].” What they are doing is demographically describing their target customer—the focus is almost always on the title of the person and the size of the company. Sometimes business owners add a geographic area or specific industry when describing the company, but in general, the pattern is people with a certain responsibility at certain kinds of companies.

While having a clear demographic description of your target customer is certainly a good thing, it’s usually not the place to begin building and nurturing valuable business relationships. There are three additional considerations.

Think beyond customers

When we dig into a client’s business to uncover the relationships that really drive their success and result in them bringing in those target customers they desire, we frequently find that their most valuable relationships are with people who aren’t target customers at all. In almost every business we examine, we find that new business is driven by a variety of third-party relationships—people who advocate on behalf of the company with the target customer.

Sometimes, it is obvious because the company has formal referral relationships with businesses or individuals who are in a position to make recommendations to the target customers (accountants, consultants, complementary product or service providers, and so on). In these cases, business owners we talk to are usually aware of the importance of those referral relationships, so they readily agree.

But in other cases, there are key relationships that aren’t as obvious. Happy customers are frequently critical drivers of new business that can be unnoticed if the company isn’t watching for the signs. Past customers are another commonly missed source. A manager who worked with you at Company A, Inc. might move to a new firm and advocate for you without you realizing it. And, there are probably twenty other similar relationship models that exist in your business. With the right analysis, however, we can often uncover the patterns that really drive any business.

What’s important is to make sure that you spend time on the relationships that will really pay off (which is almost always someone who already knows and loves what you do), instead of hammering away on people just because they have a certain job title at a company of a certain type or size.

Getting psycho

The target customer profiles of most companies we work with contain information about what the target customer is (title, company size, etc.). But it’s also important to account for what the target customer thinks and feels—psychographics.

Who are you the perfect fit for? A customer who loves new ideas and wants to be on the cutting edge or one who wants what is tried and true? A customer who values performance or one that values loyalty?

Knowing and expressing what makes one customer a better fit for your business than others, is a key component of making sure you are building relationships that lead to getting the customers you really want.

It’s personal

Finally, remember that relationships are with people, not companies (or titles). When we go through a discovery exercise with new clients, the last (and most important) step is to get down to specific individuals.

You will build and nurture relationships with Jack and Tina and Jamie, not “purchasing managers” or “buyers.”

Some companies have a list of individuals that they have already identified as critical business relationships, but many don’t. If yours is one without such a detailed target list, it is worth the investment of time up front to make sure your efforts to build relationships will pay off.

When I was younger, I dreamed of being Douglas Adams, writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He is one of the most innovative and entertaining storytellers I’ve ever read and I relished his sense of humor. One of my all-time favorite Adams lines was from his 1992 book Mostly Harmless. It was the fifth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series and the tag line on the cover of the first edition said, “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series grew well beyond its originally intended length, and while I could never hope to be in the same universe as Douglas Adams, I do have one small thing I can relate to in his world. My “3 Ways Building Business Relationships Can Be Like Playing Golf” article was intended to just be a single blog article, but interest and comments have helped it continue to expand well beyond that first post. The original “3 Ways” led to a second “3 More Ways…” article, and now it’s time for a third list of ways business relationships are like playing golf. This time, we’re looking at the emotional part of the game.

1. Resiliency required

Golf courses, in general, are masterpieces of green serenity. Manicured greens, welcoming fairways, and formal tee boxes all provide gentle, beautiful places to play the game. Unfortunately, most golfers don’t play in those well-trimmed areas. A lot of golf is played in areas on the course that are not welcoming at all: long grass in the rough, sand traps and water hazards. In fact, even the best of the best, the pros of the PGA, only hit about 60 to 70 percent of their tee shots into the fairway. This means that almost a third of the time, the best golfers in the world are trying to recover from a bad tee shot. And you can imagine how much worse the percentages are for regular, everyday golfers.

This means that a big part of playing golf is dealing with problems and setbacks. You can’t compete and win in golf if you can’t recover when shots don’t go as planned. This is an area where golf and business relationships are very similar.

It would be wonderful if we could all present our products and services to prospects and have everything go just as we expected: The prospect would be interested, and we’d be on our way to a sale to a happy new customer. Unfortunately, just like those golf tee shots that don’t always end up in the well-groomed fairway, things don’t always go as planned in business relationships.

People get fired. They are out sick. Initiatives get put on hold. The number of things that can (and do) go wrong as we work through business relationships is almost infinite. But just as in golf, the key to ultimately succeeding is accepting that those things will happen and being ready to deal with them when they do.

2. Relaxing under pressure

Golf is one of those paradoxical activities where you must be relaxed and loose to compete successfully. No matter how intense the situation or important the stakes, you must be able to maintain a calm, steady demeanor to hit a consistent shot.

Business relationships can require a similar approach. You might really need to close a deal, but if you push too hard you can ruin your chances at success. Often, the more you can relax and not try to move things ahead too quickly, the faster they will actually move.

3. The true you

The English humorist P.G. Wodehouse once said, “To find a man’s true character, golf with him.” This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many others. Golf, with all its randomness and adversity, tends to bring out the true nature of a person.

Business relationships that take time to develop and nurture do the same thing. Disingenuous sales reps, if they don’t really care about a prospect and just want a quick buck, can fake being sincere and caring for only a short time. Eventually, their true nature comes out and they revert to trying to coerce a sale.

If you or your team needs help developing a consistent, successful process for developing and nurturing relationships, our team at Civilis Marketing would be happy to help you. And if you have ideas for more “Ways Business Relationships Can Be Like Playing Golf” articles, let me know! We might be able to get all the way to the fifth article in our increasingly inaccurately named trilogy!